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3D Printing Success in 3D Printed Minis

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An unsung 3D printing success is in 3D printing minis, or miniatures. For over a decade and a half, tabletop gamers, players, and creators have been making 3D printed minis. People share STL files online, sell STLs, sell 3D printed minis, and buy 3D printers to print minis. Emerging businesses are making minis, backgrounds, scenery, and more. We expect this trend to empower more people to create their own complete universes and games in the years to come.

Passion Project

Even though 3D printed minis are extensive and ongoing, we rarely talk about them. It is primarily a consumer activity, but this is one application with millions of adherents and true fans. Miniature tabletop gamers enjoy playing strategy games, collecting characters, and painting characters, often partaking in various elements of the hobby. The community is huge and is served by companies such as Games Workshop, which makes over $500 million a year from Warhammer and other games. Other game studios, authors, game creators, and manufacturing studios are also active in this community.

There’s a lot of passion, precision, craft, and collective work in this community. To be successful, it pays to have this passion and to share it widely. All the companies we encountered seemed to be run by true aficionados who have started as a side gig, to monetize their existing effort, or to pay for their own hobby. Some are passionate about democratizing and growing this hobby or making their own creations. In all cases, it’s a passionate fan who turns to making a business in this arena.

What has Been Going on?

If you’d like to get started, we made a great guide on how to 3D print your own minis. Zealot made a 3mm tall SLA mini in 2014. In that same year, Tabletop Scenery was introduced and Create Your Minis did a Kickstarter offering to make minis as a service, but the Kickstarter didn’t reach its goal. Mounted Heroes tried two 3D printing mini Kickstarters in 2015, and tabletop RPG War of Wonders also did a Kickstarter. In 2015, Dr. Worldcrafter had 598 minis available online, and Brent Newhall was trying to support himself through Patreon with 3D printing minis.

In 2016, people were already offering 200 3D printed Dungeons & Dragons monsters online. Post-apocalyptic scenery was also available that year, while a tabletop game was offered through Kickstarter. In 2017, there was a Hobgoblin Kickstarter for 3D printed scenery, and Crosslance Studio did three 3D printing Kickstarters that year. In 2018, we interviewed Miguel Zavala about making D&D miniatures and reported on his growing collection. We also reported when Zavala managed to make every monster in the D&D Monster Manual Sourcebook. In 2021, Ultimate Terrain Creator let you design and print your own tabletop terrain.

How has this Market Developed?

Essentially, we had a few initial pioneers who were trying to do everything themselves, from 3D design to printing and sharing. Then, we saw a wave of small firms using Kickstarter and 3D printing to make and design products that previously could not be made. 3D printers and CAD allowed them to design their own figurines at home. This enabled them to start mini businesses or finally cost-effectively create that tabletop game.

Next, people began empowering others to 3D print their own minis at home. As the number of desktop machines exploded, interest in printing minis yourself grew. However, FDM could not provide the level of detail and finish that users were accustomed to. It was only after the low-cost vat polymerization explosion that printing your own minis became truly popular. With the introduction of printers like those from Phrozen and Elegoo, there was a significant increase in interest in 3D printing mini communities and tips on how to create, best print, and paint 3D printed minis.

In essence, 3D printing and online sharing have democratized tabletop and mini gaming. It’s encouraging to see that people aren’t just copying existing IP. The focus isn’t on a Star Wars mini set or copying other figurines. Instead, people are creating entirely new creations, games, lore, and creatures.

What is Going on Right Now?

Companies such as Minis3D.Shop are selling hundreds of resin 3D printed minis in different universes, from Atlantis Quest to the historical game Hero Quest. Here, you can buy the physical figurine for around $5. Printminis is set in the world of Mortuus Secunda, “a brutal planet of extremes,” with various characters. The team creates new characters monthly and provides the STLs to their Patreon supporters. The designs are unique and can be used with other existing games.

Cults has hundreds of files for Warmachine-inspired characters. Since this is based on existing IP, it would be interesting to see to what extent this is allowed. MyMiniFactory offers Dungeon Blocks, an expanding universe of blocks for far-off universes. WePrintMiniatures collects the work of many mini designers into one portal site. Spikeybits mixes content with premium minis. Shapeways has a vast array of miniatures available. Warlayer offers a collection of spectacular 3D printed scenery. CGTrader features thousands of files for sale. Miniset collects all sorts of collections and figurines without selling them. FeatherOz is an individual creator supported by Patreon.

Archvillain Games has over 3,000 Patreon supporters, while ThatEvilOne has 1,900, both generating around $30,000 a month. It’s an amazing gig, especially if you love the work. Evox Art raised close to $8,000 for his Creatures of Arcanterra. A salient detail is that the files will be shared through people’s MyMiniFactory libraries.

ArcherPrintandPaint offers monthly subscriptions for $49 for its minis. ArtisanGuild offers subscriptions for $10 and has been doing this since 2019. There is even a specific Wargamer resin. HeroForge is a platform that lets you customize and design miniatures to your liking. Eldritch Foundry is another customizable character service whose output can be 3D printed. PrintedObsession has over 690 designs in their store, while HeroesInfinite has 1,000. LootStudios is a D&D-focused subscription service. Empire of Minis sells physical minis and paint supplies.

My favorite mini-related place online is Reddit’s /PrintedMinis community. It has over 120,000 members and is in the top 2% of all Reddit communities.

Conclusion

We can see that there is a lot happening in 3D printed minis. Relative to other communities, there is a significant amount of commercial activity. Compared to hobbies like model trains, there also seems to be a lot more money to make. Here, people seem willing to pay for creative designs. The many design subscriptions, with individuals printing out the results, show us an enticing world where this approach may become the norm for many 3D printed objects.

The mini community is chock full of creativity and seems to have found several paths to sustainably grow small 3D printing-powered businesses worldwide. I hope we see many more designer-supported success stories emerge over time.

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